San Jose Sharks: The Franchise's 7 Most Exciting Prospects Under 21
Young talent has played a vital role in the recent success of the San Jose Sharks.
With eight players under 25 years old this season, the Sharks have benefited from consistent contributions in all aspects of the game from its youth—including 2011 Calder Trophy runner-up Logan Couture (age 22) and reliable defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (age 24).
In the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, youngsters Benn Ferriero and Jason Demers pitched in with timely goals to help the Sharks advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive season.
Let’s take a look at the youngest, most exciting prospects in the San Jose system.
1. Taylor Doherty
At 6’7” and 235 pounds, 20-year-old Taylor Doherty is the biggest Sharks prospect. In fact, he’s bigger than every player on the San Jose Sharks’ active roster, with even a couple inches on hard-hitting hustler Brent Burns. His improvement in the Ontario Hockey League should keep San Jose scouts interested and excited.
The Ontario native, currently playing in his first professional season with the Worcester Sharks, had three impressive seasons as a defenseman and team captain for the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL. In the 2007-08 season, he netted six goals and had 14 assists. He also served 118 penalty minutes—a clear indication of his on-ice presence.
While he posted similar numbers in his second season with 20 points yet again (two goals, 18 assists, 140 penalty minutes), he broke out in the 2009-10 season with incredible improvement in all aspects of his game. With 16 goals and 28 assists, he netted twice as many goals as his first two seasons combined. That’s big news for a defender whose offensive abilities have been questioned by San Jose scouts. He also found himself in the penalty box slightly less frequently with 114 minutes.
His productiveness in the 2009-10 season carried over to the OHL playoffs, where he contributed at a point-per-game pace over the course of five games for the Frontenacs.
He attended Sharks training camp this year and scored a preseason goal against Anaheim on September 21st.
Keep an eye out for Doherty in future Sharks games. On second thought, he will be tough to miss.
2. Matt Nieto
The 19-year-old Boston University sophomore already has the attention of NHL scouts because of his incredible speed and playmaking ability. Like many Long Beach natives, Nieto grew up playing roller hockey and idolizing Paul Kariya. But unlike most of his Southern Californian counterparts, he started playing when he was three years old. He went on to play his minor hockey in California and moved up to the U.S. National Team Development Program in Michigan when he was 15.
Fast forward to 2009, Neito is the youngest player on the Team USA Under-18 team and contributes to the team’s back-to-back gold medals in the Under-18 World Championship in 2009 and 2010.
In 2010-11, his freshman year at Boston University, he racked up 10 goals and 13 assists for a total of 23 points in 39 games.
As a sophomore this season, Nieto has picked up where he left off. He scored in each of the team’s first six games, including the game-winner in overtime against Massachusetts on October 29th.
Nieto’s speed and ability to create space allow him to create scoring opportunities for himself as well as his teammates. The San Jose Sharks expect even more improvement from the young winger, whose outlook is bright.
He says his best asset is his speed. Surely potential teammates and fellow speed demons Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture like the sound of that.
3. Michael Sgarbossa
The 19-year-old Canadian center has had a prosperous career in the Ontario Hockey League, along with standout performances in the 2010 and 2011 YoungStars Tournament in Penticton, BC.
In the 2010 YoungStars Tournament, Sgarbossa scored a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers and added an assist for a total of four points in two games.
Without missing a beat, Sgarbossa returned to the tournament in 2011 to contribute a goal, assist and some physicality in a 6-1 victory over the Calgary Flames. While the Sharks would lose 4-0 in their second game of the tournament against Winnipeg, Sgarbossa stood out as an offensive force and a physical presence.
Sgarbossa’s maturity and ability to create offense will keep him in the spotlight amongst fellow young prospects.
4. Konrad Abeltshauser
Another towering and commanding defender at 6’5” and 220 pounds, 19-year-old Konrad Abeltshauser has had great success as a member of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
A dominant blueliner on Germany’s U-17 and U-18 teams, Abeltshauser moved from his hometown of Bad Tolz, Germany to join the Mooseheads in 2009, where he recorded five goals and 20 assists in 48 games in the 2009-10 season.
He maintained impressive numbers in his second season as a Moosehead with eight goals and 19 assists in 58 games, and he's off to a productive start this season with three goals and 11 assists in 18 games thus far.
His improvement in the plus/minus category has been impressive so far in the 2011-12 season. While he gets substantial minutes—especially during penalty kill situations—his 2010-11 ratio of minus-36 would undoubtedly raise eyebrows. In 2011, he has maintained a plus-seven—a tremendous turnaround.
Overall, Abeltshauser’s ability to command the power play and create scoring chances as a sizable defenseman are what makes his play exciting. And his motivation to improve at only 19 years old predicts a well-disciplined and intelligent NHL prospect.
5. J.P. Anderson
If there’s one thing the San Jose Sharks organization has been doing right over the past 20 years, it’s recruiting and molding incredible goaltenders. Miikka Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov are perhaps the most successful goaltenders the Sharks have drafted, and Arturs Irbe, Brian Boucher and Steve Shields are a few of many who flourished during their time in San Jose’s system.
I have complete faith that 19-year-old J.P. Anderson will undergo the same training his thriving predecessors experienced and will be a successful NHL goaltender. In fact, he’s already making a name for himself in the OHL as chief netminder of the Mississauga St. Michaels Majors.
In 2010-11, Anderson finished with a commanding record of 38-10-1, with a .911 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. So far this season, he’s started in 18 of the team’s 23 games with a .916 save percentage.
Sharks fans should remember the name J.P. Anderson and continue to have confidence in the future of San Jose goaltending.
6. Freddie Hamilton
Freddie Hamilton is the complete package when it comes to being a solid center. Not only does the 19-year-old have a nose for the net, he gets the job done at the defensive end and during crucial minutes of games.
But being well-rounded is nothing new for Hamilton, winner of the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award for the OHL’s top academic player attending high school in the 2008-09 season.
Since joining the Niagara IceDogs in 2008, Hamilton’s effectiveness has exponentially improved. He went from recording 10 goals and 18 assists (28 points) in 2008-09 to 38 goals and 45 assists (83 points) to finish off the 2010-11 season. His unrelenting work ethic enables him to improve his defensive play and faceoff success, making him a threat from virtually anywhere on the ice.
At his rate of improvement and with his determination to excel in all aspects of the game, the sky is the limit for Freddie Hamilton.
7. Cody Ferriero
Following in older brother Benn’s footsteps, 19-year-old Cody Ferriero is a dynamic center who is efficient on both ends of the rink.
The Massachusetts native completed an impressive four-year hockey career with the Governor’s Academy with 50 goals and 41 assists, for a grand total of 91 points.
Although he was offered a scholarship at Boston College, a last-minute change of heart brought him to the Northeastern campus, where he is currently finding his place as a promising sophomore.
Sharks scouts are impressed by his ability to, like his brother, contribute in both offensive and defensive situations. In a few years, we may be seeing a dynamic Ferriero duo in the NHL.
I wouldn't mind a new pair stepping up and giving the Sedin brothers a run for their money.